Fourth-placed Manchester City face third-placed Tottenham Hotspur in the Barclays Premier League at the Etihad Stadium on Super Sunday, in an inexplicably crucial game from both teams seasons’ perspective. City have failed to play to potential on many an occasion, after the perfect start they made to their 2015-16 campaign. Spurs are living a dream season and, at times, have looked a better outfit, on the pitch, than the Cityzens.
From City’s perspective, what should they ideally do to tame Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs?
Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur
Spurs are one of the teams to have inflicted a morale-denting defeat on City this season, though their 4-1 home victory back in September was flattering. From City’s point of view, it was one of the games in which they scored first and then lost their way.
Looking ahead to tomorrow’s game, ‘scoring first’ would brighten City’s chances of beating the North Londoners. Now, why do I say that?
Statistically, City’s record is poor when they have conceded first in games this season. They have won just a couple of games in which they conceded first – against Newcastle United (H) and Watford (A).
Rationally speaking, they are not a great side, generally, when they chase games and look to hit back after the opposition has drawn first blood. Yes, there have been instances of Manuel Pellegrini’s City fighting back from a goal or two down and getting something out of the game; Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League and Watford in the FA Cup, a couple of years back, come to mind when we think of heroic recoveries. But it is just that City have not managed to do so often enough. To give you a perspective, they conceded first in five of their six league defeats, and could not recover to even take a point.
Not only is it about City scoring first, but the effect going 1-0 up would have on Spurs. Tomorrow’s visitors would have to come out and play football, potentially leaving themself vulnerable to get picked off on the counterattack.
Given the magnitude of tomorrow’s game, City can make life easier for themself if they score first. At the Etihad, they usually score and scoring first in tomorrow’s game will help them massively.
It is not usual that a game featuring City has them as the second-best attacking unit, but tomorrow will be one such instance. Spurs, with Harry Kane leading the attack, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Eric Lamela lending creativity and attacking flair, can brag about being a better attacking side than City.
Tomorrow’s hosts have been reliable on Sergio Aguero this season, just as last, and are bereft of the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Jesus Navas and Fabian Delph for tomorrow’s game. David Silva is fit to play, but he has not been his usual self lately and has the responsibility of lending creativity to City’s attack. Yaya Toure too, has been off-color and City look well short in attack heading into tomorrow’s fixture.
This facet of tomorrow’s game is too significant to overlook. City have been defensively vulnerable this season and far from their usual self as an attacking unit too. Tomorrow, they need to be better than Spurs in both the departments of the game, to pocket all three points.
Having Vincent Kompany back from injury will be a significant boost and you can expect them to be defensively better than they were against Leicester City. Going forward, they will once again be reliant on Aguero, who has a prolific goal scoring record against Spurs, to score the goals, while the likes of Raheem Sterling and Kelechi Iheanacho need to step up to the plate and deliver.
Is it going to be easy? Surely not. City are up against a Spurs side that has conceded just 0.76 goal/game in the league this season and, going forward, scored just two goals less than City have (47).
The onus will definitely be on City to take the game by the scruff of its neck. They cannot start sloppily as they did against the Foxes last weekend, and City also need to be a lot more robust. I think they lacked bite in their play against Leicester, and were psychologically and physically outplayed by the current league leaders.
Spurs will look to press City high up the pitch and test them out defensively and offensively. As aforementioned, they are a better attacking side than City when we stack up the two sides ahead of tomorrow’s game, and Pochettino’s team also has momentum on its side: having won four league games on the bounce.
Prediction: A nerve-wracking encounter for City and their fanatics.